Abstract The mammary gland of prepubertal dairy heifers consists of parenchyma expanding into the stroma, a matrix of connective and adipose tissue. High planes of nutrition increase stromal mass, but inhibit growth of parenchyma. The parenchyma consists of epithelial cells proliferating in response to growth factors such as insulin like growth factor-I (IGF-I). These observations have led to the hypothesis that elevated planes of nutrition increase leptin production, which in turn inhibits IGF-I-mediated epithelial cell proliferation. To assess this possibility, heifers were offered planes of nutrition sustaining average daily gains of 715 g/d (normal; NP) or 1,202 g/d (high; HP) from 42 d of age until slaughter at 240kg. At slaughter, HP heifers had 2-fold greater plasma leptin concentration and 3-fold greater leptin mRNA abundance in mammary stroma and parenchyma. To assess the causal nature between leptin and parenchymal development, the induction of signaling events and functional responses in the MAC-T cell line and in primary mammary epithelial cells by leptin was examined. Leptin did not induce phosphorylation of signal transducers and activators of transcription (STAT)3, STAT5, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2), or AKT/Protein kinase B. Consistent with its inability to signal, leptin did not alter basal- or IGF-I–stimulated thymidine incorporation or increase suppressors of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3) expression in these cells. Transcripts corresponding to the short leptin receptor form were present in mammary tissue, but those corresponding to the long signaling form were not detected in either mammary tissue or cells. In conclusion, elevated planes of nutrition increase leptin synthesis in mammary stroma, but leptin does not act directly on bovine mammary epithelial cells.